What Does Drake’s Residency Mean for Las Vegas Nightlife?

Photo: Christopher Polk/2017 Getty Images

Even in Las Vegas, where Calvin Harris cuts $280 million deals on the regular, Drake’s reported upcoming residency at XS is a big deal. Drake actually beat the British DJ, who reportedly gets paid “roughly” $1 million per show, taking home $2 million (plus proceeds from the undoubtedly abundant sales of his new Mod Champagne brand) from the XS show where he first hinted at a Vegas residency las week. Outside of the mind-boggling finances, what does a Drake residency mean for a town where Celine Dion has reigned supreme for eight years, and Donny & Marie Osmond still clean up?

Before we get any further, “residency” merits some breaking down for those who might not be Sin City aficionados, and don’t know to have an opinion on the somewhat contentious and ill-defined term. “I think people slap the tag on residencies right now that are not deserved,” says Bobby Reynolds, senior vice president of AEG Presents. “An artist that plays four shows in four months is definitely not a residency.” For example, in 2017, Lil Wayne played five shows in five almost-consecutive months at Drai’s Nightclub, which has hosted big hip-hop draws including Future, Migos, Big Sean and Rae Sremmurd for similar numbers of shows in compressed time frames. According to some of those interviewed for this article, that would be considered a regularly scheduled appearance, not a full-fledged residency.

Regardless of which camp you fall into, the (rarely disclosed) terms of an artist residency vary from deal to deal but always include some kind of exclusivity requirement, known as a radius clause. For Las Vegas, that can mean no performances in Los Angeles or Nevada, and sometimes west of the Rockies or anywhere other than the East Coast, while they’re posted up for weeks, months or even years at the Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace or the Encore Theatre at the Wynn. “Every single resident artist I have, if I’m making a sizable bet on their business, and I’m giving them a lot of dates and a lot of money, I want a certain exclusivity,” adds Reynolds. He cites as an example John Fogerty, who draws a lot of Creedence Clearwater-loving Californians because they can’t see him in his home state while he’s at the Wynn.

Residencies are also typically defined by some bespoke production element: Lady Gaga’s over-the-top extravaganza or Céline Dion’s long-running show, which established her as queen of the strip, were specifically tailored for those artists and venues. Such elaborate setups are primarily reserved for seated venues, while hip-hop and EDM shows and DJ sets are considered more appropriate for a nightclub setting, where the lights flash, bodies move and bottle service flows. Some nightclubs offer in-house entertainment enhancements of a different variety: for EDM DJ Zedd’s birthday party, XS offered ticket-buyers a giant ball pit, live human statues, and an inflatable Champagne hot tub, among other flashy distractions. “At the end of the day, you’re driving the same number of bodies at XS or Surrender,” says Chris Baldizan, senior vice-president of entertainment booking and development for MGM Resorts, whose Park Theater has been hosting Lady Gaga’s “Enigma” residency. “Four or five thousand people a night, as you are at Lady Gaga’s show, which is 5,200 people a night. It’s not less involved, it’s just a different kind of production.”

Speaking about Drake’s XS residency, Baldizan adds, “That particular type of show, in my opinion, isn’t built for a sit-down theater. It is built for what they accomplished there, which is driving a certain demographic or customer that has disposable income for that nightlife scene.” That said, he admits to talking with “prominent” hip-hop and R&B artists who are interested in departing from the nightlife residency model and setting up shop at the new Park Theater. “That genre is just too big of a genre and a demographic for this city for it not to happen eventually,” he says. “If Drake said, ‘You know what? I don’t want to do this nightlife thing,’ and wanted to do a show in a theater and be creative, it would be off the hook. I have no doubt.”

Though Las Vegas’ entertainment revival has been recently credited to artist residencies by relatively fresh talent like Gwen Stefani and Queen fronted by Adam Lambert, nightclubs have been one of the most powerful engines behind the city’s economy for several years now. As of a 2015 study released by Nightclub & Bar Media Group, seven of the top ten U.S. nightclubs, based on revenue, were located in Las Vegas. “There’s more and more venues opening every year,” says Sujit Kundu of booking agency SKAM, whose artist roster includes Lil Jon, Cassie and Amber Rose and who has lived and worked there for the past 20 years. “When I started, there’s probably, like, four clubs, really, and now there’s god knows how many.”

It makes a certain amount of sense that Drake would jump on the Vegas bandwagon, along with J.Lo and Cardi B and Post Malone, who sources tell Vulture have unconfirmed residencies coming up. Admittedly, there’s probably not that much convincing necessary to leave behind tour life for a guaranteed $10 million paycheck, especially now artists flock to Vegas not as a first step on the road to retirement, but to escalate their creative ambition and solidify their power to draw crowds. “The moral of the story is, it’s not strange for someone to want to do a Vegas residency,” says Kundu. “You can go several times a year. The check’s pretty good. They’re able to accommodate you — hotel, food, drinks — they’re able to give you top service, and it’s easy.”

What Does Drake’s Residency Mean for Las Vegas Nightlife?